Kevin Valine

Modesto plays ball with nonprofit

@modbee.com

A Miracle League baseball exhibition in June 2011 allowed local children with special needs to play with minor-league all-stars at John Thurman Field.
A Miracle League baseball exhibition in June 2011 allowed local children with special needs to play with minor-league all-stars at John Thurman Field. Modesto Bee file

It’s taken several years, but the Miracle League of Stanislaus County’s dream to build a baseball field for disabled children is nearing reality after the city went to bat for the nonprofit organization.

The Modesto City Council recently approved spending as much as $250,000 to match donations the league receives as it wraps up raising money for the ballfield. The city is matching the donations dollar for dollar.

Before the city stepped up to the plate, the league had raised about $1.2 million toward the $1.7 million it estimates it will need. Since then, the league has raised $145,000, which the city will match. League officials say they expect to raise enough money to break ground on the field in early summer and have kids playing ball in the fall.

“The city coming in with this was the last push we needed,” said Marci Boucher, executive director of the Modesto-based Society for Disabilities, which the league hired to handle the finances and help with the operations.

The ballfield will be built on the 1.4 acres the league is leasing from Big Valley Grace Community Church for $1 a year. The field will be rubberized, which will allow children using wheelchairs and walkers to play. The players’ disabilities cover a range of physical, mental and emotional conditions. The league is for players ages 5 to 20. And the players are paired with young people and other volunteers who serve as their buddies.

Miracle League board member Chris Tyler believes the league will serve about 300 children each year, with baseball played in the fall and spring.

“We have a huge unmet need for these children,” he said. “... It’s important for them to live out a normal childhood experience, and that includes playing on a team and interacting with other children. We have an opportunity to change thousands of lives in this county.”

The Miracle League of Stanislaus County is the local chapter of an international organization, which states on its website that there are 275 leagues in the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada and Australia. The website says the leagues serve more than 200,000 children and young adults in a game that is a little different from traditional baseball. For instance, every player bats once each inning, and both teams win.

Tyler said he was one of six friends, many with experience in real estate and construction, who found themselves with time on their hands in 2008 when the economy tanked. They decided to find a project they could do to improve Modesto.

Tyler said when one of the friends met Terry Battcher, the group had found its purpose. Battcher had just moved to the area but still was driving about 160 miles each way to Visalia so his son Dalton could play in the Miracle League there. Battcher joined the effort and now serves as a director and president of the Miracle League of Stanislaus County.

Tyler said this will be the first Miracle League in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

He said it’s been a community effort to create the league. He said people and businesses have contributed their time and expertise at no cost or at a reduced cost.

The league will need continued support. Officials estimate its annual operating costs at $75,000. The league will have 40 signs at the field for advertisements, with each sign costing $1,000 per year. And the league needs volunteers to serve as buddies and donations of money and equipment. Boucher said the league is considering charging a $40 registration fee to cover uniforms and insurance.

For more about the league, go to www.themiracleleague.com. Those interested in volunteering, making a donation or having their children participate can call Boucher at (209) 524-3536.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or (209) 578-2316.

  Comments